Donald and Melania Trump are putting their own style in the White House. It was announced Thursday that Tham Kannalikham, a New York designer who got her start at Ralph Lauren Home, was their pick to design the private quarters at the White House.
In a story that first appeared in WWD, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, senior adviser to the first lady, made the following statement: “Mrs. Trump has a deep appreciation for the historical aspects of the White House and with Tham’s traditional design and expertise, they are focusing on a seamless integration of elegance and comfort into where the President, the First Lady, and [their son] Barron will be spending their family time and calling their home.”
Kannalikham is described as a Laotian American designer who heads up her own firm, Kannalikham Designs. She’s not well known in design circles, and you won’t find much about her on the Internet. Her bare-bones website has no detailed information about her, and her Instagram account is private.
It was unclear whether Kannalikham would be designing the Oval Office in addition to the upstairs private quarters, or whether another designer is doing the office redecoration. In the recent past, presidential interior decorators have done both, but often the final look of the Oval Office doesn’t come together until later in the administration because most of the furnishings must be custom-made.
Images from the White House seem to confirm that President Trump dug into White House storage to furnish his own interim office, according to the White House Historical Association. Clearly visible in recent photos of the Oval Office are what appear to be Bill Clinton’s gold silk curtains, Ronald Reagan’s terra-cotta Stark Carpet rug — designed with a central presidential seal with radiating rays — and George W. Bush’s two sofas and wood coffee table.
Kaki Hockersmith, the Clintons’ decorator, was watching TV on Inauguration Day and caught a glimpse of the gold curtains framing the new president. After a closer look, she realized they were the ones that she designed and installed on Jan. 20, 1993, and that hung behind Bill Clinton for eight years. “I was surprised, but consider it a compliment to our good taste,” said Hockersmith. “Those curtains are beautiful.”
Hockersmith used what she describes as “a yellow-gold silk by Scalamandre called Newport Damask” and applied a custom decorative braid trim. She said the fabric is similar to a red damask once used by George Washington, which is one of the reasons she chose it. “What one family designs is forever part of history,” Hockersmith said. “What changes is the new people that come along, and they then have their own part in this living museum.”
Michael Smith, the Obamas’ designer, connected with Kannalikham during the transition. “I’ve never met her, but we have had some very lovely email and phone exchanges,” Smith said. “She joins a very select club and is one of the people who have been fortunate enough to work for first families. As I’ve said many times, every time you move a chair or lamp in the White House, it is part of the fabric of history.”